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100 Theatre Shoots – 9 to 5: The Musical

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On Saturday, I photographed the final dress rehearsal for Summerset Theatre’s 9 to 5: The Musical over in Austin, MN. It’s a musical stage version of the movie with music and lyrics by Dolly Parton – who, of course, wrote the title tune and starred in the movie along with Jane Fonda and Lilly Tomlin.

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It’s pretty light fare and fun, and Dolly’s songs are great. It’s easy to forget how prolific and good she’s been as a songwriter. It also carries a lot of the movie’s 1980s sensibilities.

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This show had some additional significance to me. This was my one-hundredth theatre shoot! My first show to photograph was Neil Simon’s The Sunshine Boys back in 2005 at Rochester Civic Theatre. I reached fifty shows in 2011, so the second fifty has been a bit faster.

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We used to shoot all the RCT shows staged with a special call for the actors. There are some advantages, and it can be helpful for fast-paced action or very low light – I’d sometimes ask the stage manager to bump the lights for a particular scene.

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But, as I branched out  to other theatres, I started shooting the shows live, and I’ve grown to enjoy shooting that way. Technology has helped, as my camera is much more tolerant of low light than the model I used for my first show.

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I’m now doing the same at the Civic, and I believe the actors (and director and stage manager and crew) appreciate not having to spend this extra time.

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Summerset Theatre puts on three shows in the summer. 9 to 5 is their first for this season (my fourth season photographing their shows). While it’s a musical with lots of singing and dancing, the lighting and sets are appropriate to the story and not like Cabaret or Les Mis. So, the photography was technically more similar to non-musicals.

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I tried to capture the fun moments and expressions that help show the comedy.

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There are some more tender moments rounding out the show, as well.

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This show runs through Saturday, so you still have time to see it. I also have to mention the top-notch pit orchestra – lots of talent there as well as on-stage!

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Next up at Summerset is The 39 Steps. RCT’s artistic director, Greg Miller, will be on stage for that show, so we’re hoping to gather some of our Rochester theatre peeps and caravan over to see it. That plays July 7 through 11. Then they end their season with A Funny Thing Happened on the way to the Forum. That will be my second time shooting that musical! It runs July 28 through August 1. More info is on Summerset’s website.

I’ll be shooting my first show at the Rep next week – number 101. Should be fun!

See you at the theatre!

Lindsay and Brad

Ladies All Ready

I had the great pleasure and honor to photograph the wedding of two of my favorite people last month. We know Brad and Lindsay from theatre – where they met. They are gifted actors and incredible friends.

An outdoor wedding was planned, and while July tends to be warm and dry here, you just never know. We had rain early in the day, then it sprinkled on and off. They decided to let me shoot the portraits in the park before the ceremony. When the rain stopped, we headed outside, but I asked one of the bridesmaids to grab an umbrella just in case.

Brad's First Look

We needed it briefly, and the timing worked pretty well. Lindsay wanted Brad to see her and her gown for the first time that day, so I took Lindsay out first to photograph a few portraits of her and her attendants then had Brad come out for their meeting. Brad walked up just as the little sprinkles ended and she dropped the umbrella. Brad had this look on his face pretty much the entire day.


That was it for the rain. The cloud cover gave me some terrific lighting which I supplemented here and there.

A Terrific Couple

Things would ramp up soon with lots of family and wedding party photos, but at this point, it was good to see things were coming together nicely. They could enjoy a relatively quiet moment.

Lindsay and Dad

The ceremony approached, friends gathered, and it was show time. The clouds gave way to sunshine, so I was glad we had chosen a fairly shady location for the ceremony. Some additional fullness to the tree canopy would have been nice, but we work with what we have!


The shade also helped the attendees avoid the July sun as the couple exchanged personal vows and make it all official.

Parade Chicken Dance

Brad and Lindsay have a connection to New Orleans, so there was a running NOLA theme including a fun parade of the attendees from the park setting to Rochester Civic Theatre for the reception. Leading the way was a three-piece band playing a bit of jazz and, at one point, the Chicken Dance. It was very fun!

The Parade

It was certainly the first wedding I’ve attended to have a parade.

LP and the 45s

What has also become unusual for weddings is a live band. They had the band LP and the 45s provide the music for the evening. They grace the patio stage at RCT several times during the summer, and many of the folks at the wedding – certainly the theatre crowd – know and appreciate their renditions of ’50s and ’60s rock-and-roll. (They always draw big crowds to the RCT patio!)

First Dance

After a Johnny Mango catered dinner – New Orleans style, of course – the band kicked things off with the couples’ first dance.

Cake Cutting

Prior to the wedding, I watched Lynne assemble edible magnolia blossoms (the Louisiana state flower) and lace and then build the wedding cake for the event. It turned out great and was probably the best tasting wedding cake I’ve experienced!

Leslie and Mallory

The festivities then kicked into high gear. Even Leslie – the keyboardist – was able to dance a little.

Partying into the Night

The sun set and the party continued.

What a Day!

Weddings, no matter how well planned, have a way of bringing surprises and challenges. I’m sure there were moments that weren’t as expected or desired (there always are), but from my point of view, it was a wonderful day, two amazing people were married, many, many guests shared the day with them, and everyone had a great time.


Their photographer had a great time, too. I had many opportunities for taking fun photos, they were very open to suggestions, and I got to see two good friends tie the knot. It doesn’t get much better.

I wish them all the best in their future together.

Shooting Tethered

A few weeks ago, I was asked if I’d be interested in taking a photo of a large group of IBMers forming the number 100 as part of the Centennial celebration for IBM. Sure! It sounded like fun, although the logistics would be, let’s say, interesting.

First we needed to decide where to take the shot and what we’d use to get the camera high enough. We thought it would be cool to shoot it toward one of the buildings. The two-shades-of-blue buildings are distinctive. The buildings were designed by Eero Saarinen, the architect who designed the St. Louis arch.

We’d need a lift to get the camera up high. Okay – this is IBM after all – one doesn’t just go up in a lift. One needs training. That was going to complicate things. However, this is 2011 and we have solutions for minor issues like this!

Enter tethered shooting. Tethered shooting is supported by many modern cameras. You connect your camera to a computer over USB, and a dedicated program allows you to control many of the camera’s functions right from the computer. My 5D MkII provides the ability to basically control everything that doesn’t require physical adjustments. I thus could not adjust the zoom and I couldn’t physically move the camera on its tripod.

Live view works, so I could turn that on and call up to my helpers in the lift to move the camera up or down, right of left, or rotate it clockwise or counterclockwise. I also had them adjust the zoom for me. I could select a focus point and have the camera focus there for me. And, of course, I had complete control over exposure – ISO, shutter speed, f-stop. It was pretty slick.

I actually had not used the Canon EOS utility to do this very much. When I’ve shot tethered before, it was in a studio-type setting, and I used Lightroom’s tethering features. Unfortunately, it doesn’t support things like live view that I wanted to use. So, I stuck with the Canon program, and it worked splendedly.

I also was able to setup timed shooting, having it shoot once every 10 seconds for three frames. That allowed me to also be in the photo. I’m at the bottom left of the right-most zero.

Of course, I had backups of everything including computers and cameras. Had I needed to use my older 5D, I’d have lost the live view function. But, as they say, I would still be a photographer (i.e. I would have a camera to shoot!). Fortunately, that need never arose.

Logistics. The folks coordinating this were super. I can’t say enough about how well organized this was. One guess is we had 1700 people. We had everyone lined up and ready to go in about 15 minutes. The planning involved several meetings, a dry run with the camera setup, another shoot to help line up the numbers. There were notes and PA announcements. All I had to do was shoot some photos!

A comment about distance, if you want to attempt something like this: The USB standard says it can drive 5 meters, or about 16 feet. There are repeater cables, though. These essentially include a one-port USB hub at the end of the cable. They listen on one side and retransmit on the other, so you then get another 5 m. I used two of these plus a 5 m cable connected to the camera. We probably had the camera up between 30 and 40 feet.

Last night when I was awakened by the storms rolling by, I wondered if the shoot would happen. The rain date was tomorrow, but we really wanted to have the photo today. When I left home, the rain had stopped, it was still very cloudy, but roads and sidewalks were beginning to dry. Whew! As I packed up my gear after the shoot, it began to sprinkle. When Mother Nature gives you a gift, take it and say, “thanks!”

Here’s a short video time-lapse of folks arriving and forming the numbers.


Skydiving Blast from the Past

Lynne was cleaning up some things and came upon this old print. It’s a shot I took most likely in 1976 using my helmet-mounted Canon AE-1. This was one of my more successful freefall photos. The good freefall photographers used a Newton sight which allowed them to aim the camera (aim their head, really). Poor college students just guessed. Lots of shots didn’t quite look the way you wanted.

This was way before autofocus, too, so the name of the game was to guess about the distance you’d mainly be shooting and use a small aperture to provide a large depth of field. The poor college student also couldn’t afford lenses, so this was shot with the standard 50mm f/1.8 lens that came with the camera. Today, we’d call it the kit lens. And all those bad shots? This was film so I could shoot 36 shots at most and had to pay to develop the film. I developed my own Ektachrome slides, but this print looks to me like a Kodacolor print. There’s a stamp on the back to show it was printed by Kodak.

I scanned it last night, and this evening I loaded it into Photoshop and did a bit of cleaning. The print is actually not too bad for the most part, but there was a fold across it that produced a line of discoloration on the scanned image. I cleaned that with a combination of the good-old clone stamp tool but also used some of the content-aware healing brush. Photoshop CS5 was announced today, so I can now say that content-aware fill and healing brush are part of the new version.

The content-aware feature is nice, but like all these automatic do-hickeys, it’s not a panacea. The clone stamp tool still has a place.

I finished it off with a bit of color correction using curves, a tiny bit of levels tweaking, and some additional vibrance. It looks better than the original and better than I remember the original ever looking – even 34 years ago. I love the digital darkroom!

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